If you’re a writer, you know that not every story idea works out. Some are poorly conceived, cliched, or just plain weird. Some you would be too embarrassed to publish (or even to continue writing or reading). Some just require too much time and effort. Some are just merely mediocre and nothing special.
And it may not be the fault of the story, either. Sometimes, you forgo certain projects for a while so you can focus on ones that are more worth your time. Sometimes you get too tied up with your other responsibilities to bother with writing. Sometimes you just simply forget.
Regardless, there are quite a few of us that eventually come back into contact with old stories. They can be useful for a good laugh, a feeling of “Oh, how I’ve improved since then”. For some, the buck stops there, and the work goes back in the attic, eternally shelved, or in the trash. However, for some work, you see a spark in it. Maybe there’s something in your old story that you’ve given up too soon.
The first thing you want to do is evaluate the reason why you stopped writing. Did you stop writing because your work was just horribly-low quality and you couldn’t bear to continue? Was it because it ended up dragging, full of plot holes, or boring? Did you dismiss writing a story as mere “child’s play” as you left your parents’ house? Did you just get too busy?
The reason why you want to know why you stopped writing is so that you know for what reason you pick the pen back up. “I didn’t have time back then, but now I’ve got a raise and I’m working half the time.” “Now that I’m older and more experienced, I can spice up the writing style of this story by rewriting.” “I’ve finished a few of my other projects, so it’s time to get back to this one.” The reason for coming back to abandoned projects needs to nullify the reason for abandoning. If you were bored and so you stopped, you need to be more interested to start back up.
The next step is to determine whether your work in revitalizing the story consists of salvage or demolition. In some stories, you can only concur with the original idea; the characters, setting, plot, and writing style are too damaged to be fixed. Thus, the entire story must be rewritten, using elements of the previous idea to fuel your creativity.
In some stories, however, the damage isn’t too bad: multiple misspelled words, bad cadence, a few plot holes, some awkward dialogue. If you don’t want to start from (basically) scratch, just take the story’s greatest issues and see what you can do about fixing them. Technically, no story is too bad to salvage, but there comes a point when it would actually be easier and better to start from scratch.
Salvage operations can be tricky: perhaps a project is worthy of demolition and rewriting, but the lazy writer is terrified by the prospect of so much work, so they instead try to fix the story’s many flaws, albeit partially. Here’s a rule of thumb: refurbished stories would be better if you rewrite them. The rewrite’s always better than the fist draft. Hence, demolition projects end up being higher-quality than salvage ones. However, if you get a good salvage, the difference will be much more minimal and the work will be far less. Give your better judgement an exercise on this one.
The second-to-last step is the pruning process. Cut useless characters, cheesy lines, and poorly-conceived plots. Remake poor details and other things you’d like to keep. Don’t be too concerned on how small the story is after you’ve pruned it: you’re basically getting a free story template.
The last step is taking the story and building off of it. Unless the aforementioned story is finished (which is rarely the case) you’re going to want to continue with it like it’s a regular story. This includes writing new adventures, new characters, new places, etc. But, of course, you know this.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!